Winter… inside the housePosted on January 30, 2015
Let’s be honest: Rome is not exactly a wintery city. It’s known for long stretches of sunny days and its fierce summer heat, and maybe also for its equally fierce rainstorms, but it is not known for excessively cold weather or snow or anything else that would make its winter months remarkable in any way.
Except, despite this, between December and March I am constantly, uncomfortably cold.
I can deal with it being cold outside. This seems natural, and it’s easy enough to block out most of the cold with appropriate clothing. It’s the part where I’m also cold indoors, everywhere, that starts to get to me after a while. When I can no longer remember what it feels like to sit in a restaurant without shivers running up and down my spine every time someone opens the door, I immediately want to go home and hibernate until spring. The worst part, though, is that home isn’t actually the well-heated and cozy haven from winter that I’d like it to be. My apartment building was constructed in the 1500s. It may have incredibly thick outer walls, but their effectiveness at trapping heat inside is undermined by single-pane windows that don’t quite meet the marble windowsill and doors that don’t keep out drafts.
Sometimes I sit at my dining room table, laptop open in front of me, wrapped in the heavy down-filled duvet from the spare bed and still somehow shivering – probably because my extremities, protruding from the blanket, are frozen – and I think, this is ridiculous. Then I give in and crank the thermostat to its maximum, a theoretically balmy 35 degrees Celsius, even though experience has taught me that this makes virtually no difference and may in fact cause the hot water heater to die – again.
The heater, with two radiators positioned directly beneath the living room windows so that the heated air can be immediately neutralized by the draft, makes a few purposeful clanking and ticking noises, followed by a slight smell of hot dust. Half an hour later, if I stand with my legs pressed up against the radiator, I can feel the heat. Three hours later, the temperature in the room has crept upwards by perhaps half a degree.
The whole time, I’m feeling worried that I might actually be overusing the heat, not so much because of the energy used, but for potentially wearing out and eventually destroying the aging caldaia – a box attached to the wall outside the kitchen, tasked with heating water on demand and pumping it throughout the apartment. Although supposedly better than a traditional hot water tank, the whole concept seems archaic and vaguely sinister: Every time I turn on the heat or flick a tap towards the “hot” position, the caldaia issues a sort of grinding whirr, and then a flame is ignited, which I can see through a tiny window in the its flimsy white metal cover.
As disconcerting as it can be to see the actual fire that’s supposed to be heating the bathwater or the entire apartment, it’s worse still when I drowsily climb into the shower in the morning only to find that the water will not get even the slightest bit warm – and then a drippy, towel-wrapped inspection of the caldaia reveals no flame, with grim, acrid smoke curling lazily out of a vent in the bottom.
The first few times this happened, I found that I could resuscitate the caldaia with a sharp smack on the case, restoring the flow of hot water for a few weeks, then days, then hours, and then… nothing. I endured several days of glacial showers before the repair man could show up, weld something to something else, and declare his work done. It broke again a year later – smoke and some menacing clicking. This time I backed away, telephone in hand, and one glacial shower later the repairman showed up, replaced a broken sensor, and told me that the water heater was “a very outdated model”, which I think was code for “your water heater will soon break completely, probably during the depths of winter”.
All of this is a long-winded way of explaining the little surge of nervousness that I get every time I crank up the heat in my apartment in an attempt to spend even just a fraction of the day at a comfortable temperature in which I can actually feel my toes and my fingers stop feeling like flexible ice cubes. And so, partially out a probably misguided attempt to not overtax my water heater, and partially because it makes so little difference anyhow, I keep the heat low, keep the down-filled duvet wrapped firmly around me and keep my feet encased in multiple layers of thick, fluffy socks.
Because if there’s one thing I can be very sure of, it’s that summer in Rome will bring me all the heat I’ve ever wanted – and more – and may actually leave me reminiscing fondly over these blanket-wrapped winter months.